Ranfurly Shield stays in Taranaki - just

GLENN MCLEAN
Last updated 05:00 03/09/2012
Beauden Barrett
ROBERT CHARLES/Fairfax NZ

CLOSE CALL: Beauden Barrett scores the winning try.

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Just how do you sum up a Ranfurly Shield match like that?

The effort challengers Tasman put in at Yarrow Stadium on Saturday night was best summed up by the sight of openside flanker Shane Christie prone and exhausted on the ground with 10 minutes to go.

He was so spent he was physically sick on the field. He had simply given everything he had, as had many of his team-mates.

In one of the most bizarre games in the Shield's 108-year history, Taranaki somehow outlasted their gallant opponents 49-40 in a match that was highlighted by a feast of scoring.

Tasman's 40 points is the most by an unsuccessful challenger, eclipsing Canterbury's 1992 effort when they scored 38 only for Auckland to score 47.

"There was a bit of pressure in the [coaches'] box," Tenderlink Taranaki coach Colin Cooper said. "I've had a few more grey hairs sprout out."

The tone of the match was set 30 seconds after referee Glen Jackson had signalled time on, Blade Thomson crashing over after Taranaki had forced a turnover from the kickoff.

Tasman countered a couple of minutes later and that was how the game panned out - one side would score, the other would score and bugger the defence at times.

In the end, a Beauden Barrett try sealed the deal but not before the home crowd was seriously scared into thinking the Shield was on its way south.

Taranaki had worked hard at training on their fringe defence but lessons were not learnt.

From having the best defence in the NPC in 2011, Taranaki have now leaked 62 points in two games. The good news for their fans is they have the maximum 10 competition points.

Cooper thought some of the blame for the amount of line breaks they conceded was the fact two players were committing to one attacker, leaving serious gaps that Tasman halfback Jeremy Su'a could exploit as he sent some big men through holes.

Tasman's ability to off-load and support the ball carrier belied their status as the 14th ranked team in the NPC, while Taranaki were guilty of not committing themselves fully to the task.

To the holders' credit, they had enough attacking clout to counter Tasman. But only just.

"We have learnt a lot about Shield defences tonight," Cooper said. "Maybe the tries came a bit soft for us at the start and we became a bit lackadaisical. But we came back strong in the second half and things were a lot better. We just had to deny them the ball because they were so ferocious with it."

Denying Tasman the ball meant spreading it instead of kicking it, often in their own 22.

Cooper said they still had "to be happy because we got five points and we still hold the Shield" and that's what really mattered at the end of the day.

"I take my hat off to them [Tasman] because I knew they would be coming here well-coached and they were.

"They probably should have taken their kicks but they backed their attack."

In hindsight, Tasman captain Andrew Goodman, one of many stars for the visitors, will rue his decision not to shoot for goal when they were 44-40 down with about 10 minutes to go.

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Twice they opted to run the ball instead, only for Taranaki to hold on through desperate defence.

Taranaki captain Jason Eaton was "pretty relieved" after the final whistle.

"It wasn't your traditional game of Shield rugby," he said. "It was pretty open and that last quarter of an hour we really had to knuckle down and grind out a win. We were probably lucky they didn't take those shots near the end.

"But I'll take a win in any Ranfurly Shield game."

He, too, was disappointed with his side's defence.

"It wasn't good enough around the ruck and we let their nine run too much and let players run off him," he said. "I expected more from the team because we have worked hard on it. Maybe we worked a bit hard on countering the pick-and-go and not enough on the halfback running. We've got a lot of work to do and we're pretty lucky we can score tries."

There were some classics, too, including a double from fullback Kurt Baker who enjoyed the space and the freedom at the back as opposed to centre.

Barrett was his exceptional self, his older brother, Kane, made some real impact off the bench, as did Scott Waldrom, while Blade Thomson was the best and hardest working forward off the back of the scrum.

Tasman coach Kieran Keane did not emerge from the changing room after the game while Goodman was in tears as he contemplated just how close they had got to lifting the Shield.

Assistant coach Leon Macdonald also could not hide his disappointment. "We came here to win the game and we didn't so the guys are obviously disappointed," he said. "There's always ifs and buts but you couldn't fault the effort. The effort was outstanding."

TARANAKI 49 (Kurt Baker 2, Blade Thomson, Waisake Naholo, Beauden Barrett tries; Beauden Barrett 6 pens, 3 cons)

TASMAN 40 (Tim Perry, James Lowe, Campbell Johnstone, Robbie Malneek, Quentin MacDonald tries; Andrew Goodman 3 pens, 3 cons).

HT: 32-30

- © Fairfax NZ News

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